I was wandering out of a station earlier this week when I met a colleague on his way in. He enquired did I know that we were going on strike. I pondered for a bit but couldn’t recall having discussed any strike action since the Boxing Day action.
‘Oh yes’, he informed me, ‘we’re going on strike for Kate and Wills’ wedding. Cos it’s a public holiday for everyone and we want triple time and a day off in lieu’.
‘Um…why would we want to do that? It’s not a real public holiday and it’s not like it’s Christmas or anybody really cares about that day. And I’m betting places like Tesco will still be open and minting it.’
‘I know, but we’re going on strike anyway. It’s on the front page of the Evening Standard.’
‘But why would we strike then? People will want to go in and see it. And…when did that get balloted? I don’t even remember anybody discussing it.’
‘Well it didn’t. But the Evening Standard have said we’re going on strike so we must be.’
I don’t quite know what happens if I choose not to go on strike when the local paper tells me too. Probably drummed out of the union seeing as they seem to be running things around here. But I can’t really see a reason to strike. I’m sure plenty of people will enjoy watching the wedding and a good chunk of the others will just enjoy a day off. I expect that the majority of people will not be given the day off or will get it with no pay. The idea that every employer in the UK can afford to shut up shop for an extra day is insane. The whole thing seems like a huge PR exercise.
Some people like to howl and rage at trade unions for any little thing. We are often accused of having around a thousand days of holiday each year. We don’t really get that much more than many other employees but because of the way it is presented, it looks a lot.
The legal minimum for annual leave is 28 days. On top of that there are either 11 or 12 bank holidays (I forget which) which an employer might choose to allow their staff to take as leave. It’s not a legal right to have a bank holiday as paid leave but in other jobs I’ve often experienced either being given the day off or offered extra money to work it. Not always but the vast majority of the time. So for many people, 39 days leave per year is the norm. And then I get four days more than that. And no offer of extra pay.
Pay is another thing that bugs folks. Yes, I get a good wage for my job. I see no reason to be ashamed of that and I don’t feel that I’m somehow stealing the wages of nurses or teachers or charity workers or whomever I’m being compared to this week. I have never seen how it is possible to compare two completely different jobs in different industries and with different employers as though the higher wage of one causes the lower wage of the other. It’s not realistic.
It’s also not realistic to expect us to strike just because a newspaper says we should. Once I’d worked through my own puzzlement the universal bewilderment of staff when asked if they are striking is quite funny to watch. There is a clear process to follow in industrial negotiations and that’s what will be followed. There’s no fast-track to industrial action. Of course, I can’t guarantee there won’t be some sort of action on the day as I can’t speak for all of the other staff or even for staff of my own union. But so far the only people even contemplating that we will want extra for working in April or threaten strike action are the press. This is less shortcut socialism and more shortcut journalism.